As I sat down I was planning a column on education reform but my morning paper, Television stations, and radio were all featuring rants about the Penn State penalties. I listened, read, and watched, and came to a conclusion. The sanctions are a response to the symptoms of a disease not an attempt to solve the problem. What is the problem? Simply put, the win now, win always, attitude of many colleges. We are ordained to compete for the title every year, and our institutions and athletes are coddled, enabled, and above the rules. The problem is the lack of competitive balance and underdog champions. This led me to two questions, first how does this happen, and second, what can be done about it.
First a school gets a reputation as either a niche school or a perennial power. The exemplar here is Penn State. Penn State does not challenge for the national title every year, but every year the school’s linebacker corps, receives great scrutiny from pro-scouts. Penn State is known year in and year out as a linebacker factory. This is an example of a niche school the other example is the perennial power. The exemplar here is the University of Texas, (UT). Every year UT is expected to be a top twenty team, a bowl team, and every few years to challenge for the national title. There are other niche schools and there are power schools, and they all feel entitled to success and look to dominate other schools by stockpiling talent.
Second what can be done, Penn State was penalized ten scholarships a year for the next four years! How many scholarships are they normally allowed? A college is allowed twenty-five football scholarships a year. So let’s look at the math, twentyfive scholarships minus ten scholarships equals fifteen scholarships for football a year. Now there are eleven players on offense, eleven players on defense, two kickers, and two return specialists. That means twenty-six players; add in six back-ups, thirty-two players. Thirty-two divided by four is eight. That means a team needs eight players a year, to maintain a team. But they can offer twenty-five scholarships a year. If this is the problem then the solution is obvious. Only allow ten, maybe twelve, scholarships a year. Then the loss of scholarships would be a truly meaningful deterrent. This reduction of scholarships should be applied to all sports in which there is NCAA competition.
Next, while still on the subject of sanctions, increase the number of sanctionable offenses. Also make the application of the “death-penalty” almost mandatory when the institution is found guilty of systemic violations or if the violations include college administration, or board members. And if this latter group is involved, then apply the sanctions across multiple sports. Also these super fan groups or alumni organizations should be treated as if part of the schools administration. If the school knows it will be held accountable for any actions that are associated with the sports program then maybe just maybe these schools will be motivated to truly police themselves.
Finally, there was a time when verbal contracts were binding and people were expected to fulfill their obligations. This means if a student athlete accepts a scholarship then that athlete is expected to fulfill that commitment. If they do not then there should be consequences. Consequence one; seeing as that a scholarship is vacated the student/ athlete is to reimburse the college for the cost of the full scholarship. Yes, there are hardship cases and the NCAA should have a panel to investigate and rule on hardships. Student/ athletes found guilty of violations should be forced to wait until their graduation year before being allowed to go pro.
Colleges are called institutions of higher learning, not generators of professional athletes. If colleges are held to a higher standard, if athletes are held to a higher standard, and competitive balance restored between the schools and conferences then maybe we can look forward to a golden age of college sports.
ROY POKLADNIK, a teacher and problem solver welcomes comments and suggestions for topics . He may be reached at : email@example.com.